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TEXT: Luke 1:1-4
SUBJECT: Luke #1: Preface
Today, with God's help, we'll begin to study the Gospel of Luke. Like Matthew, Mark, and John, Luke tells the story of Jesus Christ, the things He
"Began to both do and teach until the day He was taken up".
The story begins about fifteen months before the Lord's birth and ends about six weeks after He rose from the dead. The special value of the Book, it seems to me, lies in three things:
1. Its fullness. There are things in Luke that are found nowhere else in the Bible. For example, the nativity of John the Baptist, the Song of Mary, the Lord's childhood, the Prodigal Son, the Good Samaritan, the Penitent Thief, the Road to Emmaus, and many others. How much poorer we would be without the stories Luke tells.
2. Its orderliness. The other Gospels jump around quite a bit, but Luke doesn't. He begins at the beginning and methodically works his way through the sufferings and resurrection of the Lord. In a way, he's a modern historian and scientific in his approach. This makes Luke the easiest Gospel for us to read.
3. Its universality. Luke is the only book in the Bible written by a Gentile for a Gentile. His big idea, therefore, is to show that Jesus Christ is more than King of the Jews. He's also The Savior of the World. The key verse of the Gospel is 3:6,
"All flesh shall see the salvation of God".
That salvation is seen in the Person and Work of Jesus Christ. And nowhere else. There is no better place to learn Who Christ is and what He has done than here, in the Gospel of Luke.
The book begins with a preface (or an introduction), vv.1-4. This is important because that's how history books were written in those days. By putting a preface on his book, Luke is telling us: these things really happened. His story is not a myth or a fairy tale or an epic poem. It's a narrative. The virgin birth, the miracles, the resurrection, and so on, are not symbols. They're facts!
Like any good reporter (or witness in court) Luke gives careful attention to detail. He tells us-not only what happened-but where and when it happened! For example, the Lord's birth occurred not Long, long ago in a galaxy far away, but,
"When Caesar Augustus decreed that all the world should be registered. This census first took place while Quirinius was governing Syria."
Luke's first readers remembered the year they had to pay the Imperial Tax, knew the one who decreed it, and the one who collected it. Had someone gone to Bethlehem, he could have looked up Joseph of Nazareth at the tax office, and seen he had two dependents--Mary and Jesus.
Luke's story is true-not just good or beautiful or helpful or instructive, but true-in the ordinary sense of the word!
THE OTHER BOOKS
Luke was not the first man to record the life of the Lord Jesus Christ. He says, "Many have taken in hand to set in order a narrative of those things most surely believed among us".
Some of these stories are in the Bible. We call them the Gospels. But would you describe one, two, or three men as "many"? I don't think so. Who, then, wrote the other Stories? Nobody knows that. Nor how many of them there were. Or, even if the other ones were "inspired by God".
Luke does not criticize the other men or say, "I'm going to set the record straight". No, what he does is add his story to theirs. As though the Early Christians couldn't hear too much about their Savior.
Some stories are not worth telling. Others are, but only once. But this story-the story of our Lord Jesus Christ-cannot be told too often! Don't you love the hymn?
"More, more about Jesus! More, more about Jesus! More of His saving fullness see; More of His love Who died for me!"
THE SOURCES AND METHOD
Having acknowledged the work of other men, Luke goes on to his own story. Like any good scholar, he cites his sources or tells where he got his information.
It is not first-hand knowledge. Luke never met Jesus Christ. He didn't see the miracles or hear His teaching. He wasn't in Jerusalem when the Lord was crucified and was not among the 500 who saw Him after the resurrection. Luke is very open about these facts.
This adds to his authority. Had he been a forger, he would have put himself at the center of every story and greatly impressed the people.who didn't know better. But Luke is too honest for that. Right up front, he says, I wasn't there.
Where, then, did he get the story? As believers in the full inspiration of the Bible, we're tempted to say, The Holy Spirit told him! But Luke says otherwise. Is the Gospel inspired of God? It is. But it was not dictated by God.
Luke got it by slow and careful research. His sources were "Eyewitnesses and ministers of the Word".
These are the Apostles and others who knew the Lord personally. Reading the first two chapters makes you think he interviewed our Lord's mother, Mary. Maybe Zacchaeus told his story or Mary Magdalene or other believers who appear in the Gospel. But whomever he interviewed they told it like it is!
Both Peter and John underscore this point,
"We did not follow cunningly devised fables when we made known to you the power and the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of His majesty". "That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with eyes, which we have looked upon, which our hands have handled-the Word of Life".
Luke's people had seen the Lord with their own two eyes; they had heard Him, touched Him, traveled with Him, entertained Him in their homes; some saw Him hanging from the cross and looked into the empty tomb; a few even saw Him ascend into heaven on a cloud of glory.
Luke has done his homework. He's not telling tales or passing along gossip. His Gospel is true; the stories are factual.
This creates a problem we often pretend isn't there. If Luke's Gospel is the result of human research, then how can it be God's Word?
The short answer is God's Sovereignty.
Let me fill it out for you. The Lord is not only the Giver of His Word, but also the Controller of all things. This means, though He used human research (which is never infallible), He also gave Luke the materials he needed and the discernment to know which stories belong in the Bible and which ones don't.
If that sounds like a mystery to you-you're right, it is. But then, again, what isn't? Everything worth knowing is a mystery. Most of all, love.
But whatever the mysteries of inspirations are, we know Luke's Gospel is God's Word. And we know that because the Apostle Paul says so. In I Timothy 5:18, he says,
"You shall not muzzle the ox that treads out the grain and the laborer is worthy of his hire".
The first half comes from Deuteronomy 25; the second half from Luke 10. He equate their authority by calling them both, "Scripture".
The word itself means any kind of writing. But to the devout Jew, it means one thing only: God's Word!
Though Luke's sources and method are human, his Word is Divine.
"Holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit".
Now that we know where Luke got his story and how he put it together, he sums up the story itself in a few words: It's about
"Those things which are most surely believed among us".
Most New Testament scholars say this is not the best way to translate the verse. The modern versions say something like this,
"The things which have been accomplished or, fulfilled among us".
I don't know which version is better. And, frankly, I don't care. Because though the wording is different, the content is the same.
The things "most surely believed among us" or "accomplished or fulfilled among us" are all about Jesus Christ. To Luke's way of thinking, Christianity is about Christ Himself.
That was the emphasis of the Early Church.
Its message wasn't how to be happy or successful or how to make the world a better place. They didn't preach conservatism or patriotism or home schooling. It was Christ they preached-Who He is and what He has done for us!
Therefore, churches weren't organized around secondary issues-like the mode of baptism, the number of elders, keeping the Sabbath or the style of music. No, they were organized around the Person and work of Christ.
J.C. Ryle has some good things to say here,
"The first preachers did not go up and down the world proclaiming an elaborate, artificial system of abstruse doctrines and deep principles. They made it their first business to tell men great, plain facts. They went about telling a sin-laden world, that the Son of God had come down to earth, and lived for Us and died for us and risen again. The Gospel, at Its first publication, was far more simple than many Make it now. It was neither more nor less than The history of Christ."
Can we discuss the Sabbath or Church Government or the Millennium? Sure we can. But only in their place. We've got to keep second things second.
First place belongs to Jesus Christ. The Bible says,
"In all things, He must have the preeminence".
Luke's Gospel covers a million issues. But it's not about any of them; it's about Jesus Christ. Luke had learned his lesson well. His teacher was Paul who-educated as he was-might have commented brilliantly on so many things. But he wouldn't be sidetracked,
"I did not come with excellence of speech or of wisdom declaring to you the testimony of God. For I determined to know nothing among you, save Jesus Christ, and Him crucified".
Finally, Luke comes to the purpose of his Gospel. He's writing the book to his friend, Theophilus, so, "That you might know the certainty of those things in which you were instructed".
Theophilus already had faith. But Luke wanted him to grow in it. The best way to do that is also the most obvious: Read the Bible!
Every part of the Bible will increase your faith. But especially those parts that reveal the nature, character, and works of Jesus Christ.
The Lord is one Person with two natures-human and divine. His human nature means He understands you-He knows what it is to be tired and weak, disappointed and lonely, and even what it means to die! His Divine nature means He can do something about it. As a Man, He's weak; as God He is Almighty. You can read about His nature in Luke's Gospel.
You can also read about His character. Knowing the Lord Jesus Christ is a man is good, but there's something better than that: Knowing what kind of Man He is. Luke tells us that too. He tells us that our Lord is compassionate, that's He's easily approached, that He's patient, forgiving, and eager to do sinners good.
You can also read about His works. The Lord not only taught with His Words, but also with His works. They tell us what kind of Being God is and what grace and mercy He is capable of. And what He can do for you-and be for you.
Read the Bible! There is no substitute for it and no better way to increase your faith in Christ. But don't stop with reading the Bible, go on to study it and meditate on it, pray over it, and discuss it with others. These things will expel the pockets of unbelief we all have and fill your mind with the thing you need most: faith.
As we study the Gospel of Luke-Lord willing-let's remember what it is: The Word of God and what it's for: to build faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
May God bring these to pass. For Christ's sake. Amen.
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